South America’s ‘Business Friendly’ Bloodbath

International Business and Banking support for the most repressive regimes in Latin America is even more evident than it was during the original cold war. Now, Wall Streetʼs three main men in South America all face charges of crimes against humanity, even genocide, at the International Criminal Court. 

Whilst the anglosphere regularly attacks governments of the left in Latin America on human rights grounds, it is its pliant business friendly U.S. regional allies; Brazilʼs Bolsonaro, Chileʼs Piñera, and Colombiaʼs Duque, who face being sent before the Hague.

All three countries face crucial elections over the next eighteen months.

Colombia: See no evil

A graduate of Georgetown University, the notorious hotbed for CIA recruitment, Colombian president Ivan Duque and members of his government will now face charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

In April 2021, Trade Union-organised protests began in Colombia against planned tax reforms which threatened to hit the country’s poorest hard. Demands for “simplified tax code” are often a euphemism for an easier ride for foreign investors and the wealthy.

What followed was a campaign of state terror; repression of the protests, violence and killings, involving both state forces and paramilitaries.

According to human rights organisations Temblores and Indepaz, from 28 April to 8 May, violent actions of the state security forces resulted in the death of at least 47 people, the arbitrary detention of 963 people, 28 victims of eye-related injuries, and 12 victims of sexual violence. In total, they registered 1,876 cases of police violence.

Media coverage was subdued compared to that which accompanies demonstrations in neighbouring Venezuela, with reporters complaining that international media outlets were not interested in the story.

Laura Capote and Zoe Alexandra write: “After several nights of terror, the silence of the international community was broken. The United Nations Human Rights Office released a strong statement on the morning of 4 May expressing that it is ‘deeply alarmed’ at what is happening in Cali where ‘police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people.’”

As a result, Colombian politicians and human rights groups are preparing an official complaint to the International Criminal Court against the Ivan Duque regime. Kawsachun News reports: “Senator Iván Cepeda Castro announced that he would be relaying the information alongside the organizations Defender la Libertad, Temblores, and La Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos, “informing the possible responsibility of President Duque, Uribe, Minister Molano, Gr. Zapateiro and Gr. Vargas in crimes against humanity committed during the strike.””

In 2012 the Wall Street Journal celebrated Colombia as a new Latin American tiger economy, in a report noted by CIA think tank CSIS. Long the biggest recipient of military aid in the hemisphere, on the pretext of fighting the so called war on drugs, Colombia occupies a very special position for the United States in the region. Plan Colombia, the multi-billion aid package which ran for fifteen years, means that US Southern Command now enjoys free use of military facilities in the country, although a formal agreement to establish seven permanent bases was struck down by legislators in 2010 as unconstitutional. Despite this, US presence in Colombia is key to its strategy to suppress progressive movements in the region, and in 2017 it became a NATO partner member, with its adjunct think tank the Atlantic Council, speaking glowingly of the US-Colombia partnership. This partnership has resulted in a blind eye being turned to state abuses in the country.

In spite of international condemnation which followed the Duque regime’s violent reaction to the protests, Brazil’s foreign ministry chose that moment to reaffirm its shared values with Colombia, whilst Wall Street lobby and think tank Council of the Americas, the main conduit between private corporations and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, attempted to deflect blame onto armed left-wing groups such as FARC and ELN for the violence.

A recent Amnesty International report “Why do they want to kill us?” observes that murders of Colombian human rights defenders have intensified under Duque, and the 2016 peace deal between the government and FARC guerrillas. As the FARC moved out, the remote areas became more dangerous: “Things have got even worse, particularly for those living in geographically strategic and natural resource-rich areas,” said Amnesty’s Americas Director Erika Guevara-Rosas. According to the UN, at least 107 social leaders and human rights activists were killed in 2019. This number doubled in 2020.

Multinationals are known to collaborate with Colombian paramilitaries in the extermination of those opposing land seizure for projects such as mining.

Council of the Americas member Chiquita, formerly the hated United Fruit Company, has a infamous history of political interference and abuses in Latin America. In Colombia, Matt Kennard writes that Chiquita “[…] were giving millions of dollars to mass-murdering paramilitaries, who had been emboldened by political protection during the civil war […]The major paramilitary group in Colombia, the AUC, has a long history of violence against peasants, trade unionists, Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities. Chiquita has admitted that it made at least 100 payments to the AUC in the period from 1997 to 2004, a total of $1.7 million.” The AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) was designated a terrorist group by the US in 2001, and was responsible for grotesque and widespread abuses including kidnapping, extortion, murder, and rape.

Council of the Americas’ vice president of policy, Brian Winter, was ghostwriter for Duque’s predecessor and mentor, former president Alvaro Uribe, president of Colombia from 2002-2010. In the WSJ review of ghostwritten autobiography ‘No Lost Causes’, Uribe is depicted as the “man who saved Colombia” and it served to whitewash the former president’s image abroad.

Council on Hemispheric Affairs report however called Uribe “the most dangerous man in Colombian politics” and notes the Uribe’s administration’s ties to the far right paramilitary AUC. His own brother Santiago was jailed for right-wing paramilitary involvement.

US intelligence documents declassified during his presidency revealed Alvaro Uribe listed among “important Colombian narco-traffickers”, in a 1991 communique which noted his dealings with the Medellin Cartel, and his close personal friendship with Pablo Escobar. As a key partner in the war on drugs, the cable was damaging to Uribe, as he mobilised Plan Colombia’s massive military aid in an effort to crush the FARC, who just years earlier looked on the brink of winning the civil war.

The Colombian Peace Tribunal (JEP) has recently released findings that, during Uribe’s crackdown on the FARC and other groups, the army murdered 6,402 civilians and presented them as guerrillas killed in combat between 2002 and 2008, in the ‘false positives’ scandal.

But Uribe is now under house arrest on charges relating to other massacres, which left between 150 and 200 people dead during his time as governor of Antioquia province. The series of massacres, which took place between 1996 and 1998, have been declared crimes against humanity by the Colombian Supreme Court. Despite his right wing paramilitary links being revealed in State Department cables during his presidency, the United States opposes Uribe’s investigation.

Left wing Senator Gustavo Petro, the ex-mayor of Bogota and one time member of revolutionary group M-19, who was defeated by Ivan Duque in the 2018 presidential runoff, currently leads polls for the 2022 election.

Chile: The blueprint

Chile was of course the original blueprint for US-enforced neoliberalism in South America.

Current President Sebastian Piñera was a supporter of General Augusto Pinochet and the bloody 1973 coup which installed his dictatorship with the help of the CIA and Council of the Americas, whose staff and functions were interchangeable, as documented in Seymour Hersh’s Price of Power. It was the threat that a democratic and socialist Chile could set an example to the region which motivated US plans for the coup against Salvador Allende, and it was instead turned into an open laboratory for Milton Friedman’s laissez-faire economic theories. Council of the America’s Brian Winter once called neofascist Pinochet “a revolutionary” rather than U.S. backed neofascist dictator.

The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a backer of Latin America’s far right governments, had long championed Piñera, who upon taking office promised to privatise Chilean copper interests which lay behind the 1973 coup. 

Some members of Piñera’s coalition served in the Pinochet government, and the New York Times reported that “his brother, José Piñera, helped install the nation’s neo-liberal economic program as the general’s labor minister and today is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group in Washington.”. With hundreds of women kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered under the Pinochet regime, Piñera enraged Chile’s feminist movement by naming the General’s great niece, Macarena Santelices, who has has praised the “positives” of the dicatorship, as minister for women.

In 1998, Sebastian Piñera opposed Judge Balthazar Garzon’s attempt to have Pinochet extradited to Spain to face trial for human rights violations during his dictatorship, for which he had been implicated in over 300 criminal charges.

Following his security forces’ violent repression of mass protests which exploded around Chile in 2019, Sebastian Piñera himself now faces charges of crimes against humanity, following in the footsteps of Pinochet.

Earlier in 2019, a delegation representing the Mapuche indigenous people presented a petition at the Hague accusing the Piñera government of genocide. Six months later as mass demonstrations erupted across the country, their brutal repression led to further charges at the ICC.

And it was again Baltasar Garzón who filed the accusation before the International Criminal Court against Piñera for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity during the 2019 protests.

”Garzón, the Chilean Human Rights Commission (CCHDH) and other organizations today sent a letter to the attorney general of the International Criminal Court (ICC), lawyer Fatou Bensouda, in the Dutch city of The Hague for the court to investigate, accuse and initiate a trial of President Sebastián Piñera for crimes against humanity that have been committed since October 2019,” reported the Center for Journalistic Investigation (Ciper).

It called for the prosecution of Piñera and all officials and members of the security forces involved in the repression of the 2019 protests, in the belief that widespread and systematic crimes against humanity were committed, and contained more than 3,000 cases of human rights violations Repression of the protests left about thirty dead, 460 people with eye injuries and more than 8,800 complaints about crimes committed by state security forces.

The complaints were confirmed by reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and the National Institute for Human Rights.

Progressive International writes: “There have been a series of systematic violations of human rights in Chile, especially during the period of the “social outbreak”. National and international human rights organisations have recorded eye injuries caused by the impact of rubber bullets, torture, deaths, sexual abuse and a series of other abuses and serious violations. These have been compiled into a dossier of evidence to take Sebastián Piñera to the International Criminal Court.”

The violence meted out to protesters was particularly horrific, with a police strategy to target the eyes of demonstrators with rubber bullets, designed to terrorise the population and clear the streets.

Senator and Chilean Upper House Human Rights Commission president, Alejandro Navarro, insisted that President Piñera “will not die without first paying for his responsibility.” after Santiago’s 7th Court of Guarantees admitted a complaint of crimes against humanity against Piñera. “He will be punished with imprisonment in any of its grades, the maximum degree being a penalty ranging from 15 to 20 years,” Navarro said.

Council of the Americas personnel tried to insinuate that “foreign forces” were behind the Chilean protests, and those which rocked Ecuador in the same period, without presenting evidence. In contrast, when these kind of allegations happens under left governments or those not allied to the United States, skeptics are frequently accused of “denying agency” by questioning what might be behind such destabilising movements, such as the involvement of foreign or foreign funded non-governmental organisations.

In October 2020, one year after the protests, 78% of Chileans voted to rewrite the constitution – one of the vestiges of the Pinochet era.

The Communist Party’s Daniel Jadue, currently mayor of Recoleta, leads most opinion polls for Chile’s 2021 presidential election.

Brazil: The image problem

In May 2019 the United States’ biggest banks sponsored a lavish New York gala event for Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro, held at the Marriott Marquis hotel. Six months later Bolsonaro faced the first of a series of  charges at the international criminal court, for crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide.

The New York event was sponsored by Council of the Americas patron member Citigroup whose CEO Michael Corbat defended its sponsorship of the gala in the face of a well organised protest campaign to cancel it. It was originally scheduled to take place at the American Museum of Natural History but was cancelled due to public outrage that the museum would host a man intent on dismantling protections of the Amazon for foreign mining and agribusiness corporations.

Whilst other companies withdrew, Council of the Americas members who sponsored the event included Credit Suisse Group AG, JPMorgan Chase & Co., BNP Paribas SA, HSBC, Bank of America. and Morgan Stanley. Corbat told CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla: “We spend a lot of time making sure our people understand the values of our company, and I hope in the case of that, there’s no question in terms of our support, our unwavering support, for our LGBT community,” in an attempt to pinkwash their endorsement of Bolsonaro’s necropolitics.

Bolsonaro’s well publicised history of not only homophobic, but violent, racist, misogynistic and genocidal statements made a mockery of these corporations facile appeals to LGBT customers, and they knew full well what he was before he was elected. On two occasions he made threatening rape related remarks to Workers Party congresswoman Maria do Rosario.

Despite this, Council of the Americas normalised Bolsonaro extreme right positions by calling him an “arch-conservative”. In 2017, following behind closed door meetings with the Bolsonaro clan at COA New York headquarters, Brian Winter referred to what assumedly were its members, as “some previously skeptical business leaders, in Brazil and abroad, were starting to come around. One described Bolsonaro as a “defense of last resort” if Lula were not prevented from running by his legal troubles and still led polls by mid-2018.”. Operation Lava Jato prosecutor Deltan Dellagnol called the jailing of Lula, “a gift from the CIA“.

No room for feelings” the investors said, of a man who claimed on television that 30,000 needed to be killed for Brazil to function properly.

Council of the Americas member, Barings Bank, could not contain their enthusiasm for the election of Bolsonaro, calling it “a new frontier”. “Jair Bolsonaro’s election as Brazil’s president in October 2018 was momentous: this was the first time since the establishment of the country’s 1988 constitution that a clear right-leaning mandate had won a national vote. Many market commentators have recognized that his appointment has the potential for positive economic transformation,” it proclaimed.

The propaganda-laden statement paid gushing tributes to Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and now disgraced Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, even lauding his politically-motivated imprisonment of former President Lula da Silva, which enabled Bolsonaro’s victory.

Guedes “Pro-Business” economic policies, delivered by a monster like Bolsonaro, was acceptable to them, as it had been many times in the past. A veteran of Pinochet’s Chile, Paulo Guedes reduces the atrocities under his rule to a “political point of view”.

The Wall Street Journal explicitly endorsed Jair Bolsonaro during the 2018 election, and lauded his spurious anti-corruption rhetoric.

The magazine gloated: “Global progressives are having an anxiety attack over the near-triumph Sunday of Brazil’s conservative presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. After years of corruption and recession, apparently millions of Brazilians think an outsider is exactly what the country needs.”

“[…] Mr. Bolsonaro, who has spent 27 years in Congress, is best understood as a conservative populist who promises to make Brazil great for the first time. The 63-year-old is running on traditional values and often says politically incorrect things about identity politics that inflame his opponents. Yet he has attracted support from the middle class by pledging to reduce corruption, crack down on Brazil’s rampant crime and liberate entrepreneurs from government control. He has stopped short of promising to fully privatize Petrobras, the state-owned oil giant, but his chief economic adviser says he would sell its subsidiaries, deregulate much of the economy and restrain government spending. On crime he has promised to restore a police presence in urban and rural areas that have become lawless.”

On May 5, Jair Bolsonaro met new Rio de Janeiro governor Cláudio Castro at his official residence, the Laranjeiras Palace. Castro took office after the impeachment of far-right Wilson Witzel, whom he served as vice.

The next day saw the worst massacre by Rio de Janeiro police in history, with 28 killed at the Jacarezinho favela. The previous worst was the Vigário Geral massacre in 1993, with 21 victims. 

Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court ordered suspension of police operations in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas in June 2020, but the state government has failed to comply. Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil said: “It’s completely unacceptable that security forces keep committing grave human rights violations such as those that occurred in Jacarezinho today against residents of the favelas, who are mostly Black and live in poverty.”

Bolsonaro’s rhetoric on police killings has been a trademark , with the motto “a good thief is a dead thief”, and advocating clearing favelas of gangs with gunfire from helicopters. During the 2018 election he also spoke of machine gunning Workers Party members at a campaign rally.

He congratulated Rio de Janeiro police following the Jacarezinho massacre. Whilst Rio police abuses have continued for decades, Brazil has never had an elected president who celebrates them.

An admirer of Chile’s Pinochet, it is with the Brazilian president’s brazen necropolitics that those promoting the interests of Wall Street investors have their major image problem in South America. Their 2018 pick soon became an international bogeyman, and distancing from the neofascist by those who once lauded his “good ideas” has been visible since the moment he took office.

As even the CIA embarks on a cringeworthy corporate embrace of “diversity”, that image problem has led to the financial press now attempting to instead bracket Brazil’s Bolsonaro together with left wingers Mexico’s Amlo and Argentina’s Fernandez, classifying them all as “populists”, when in fact he is in open ideological alliance with their preferred regional leaders, such as Chile’s Piñera and Colombia’s Duque.

With Bolsonaro’s support from the Atlantic Council, a pledge to make it a NATO associate member, and broadening of cooperation with Southcom, Brazil, like Colombia, is central to any U.S. strategic plans in South America. Bolsonaro became the first Brazilian leader in history to visit CIA headquarters, two months after his inauguration.

Latin America’s largest economy has been in steep decline since the U.S.-backed lawfare operation Lava Jato first froze its civil construction and energy sectors in 2015. Already suffering from the global commodities slowdown, this economic sabotage was overlooked, and instead used to build a secondary pretext for the removal of Dilma Rousseff, along with the systemic corruption the same Lava Jato was supposedly pursuing. As many predicted then, this was used to turn Brazil’s vast public sector into low hanging fruit for private and foreign investors.

Brazil’s situation was depicted bombastically as the worst economic crisis in history when it was nothing of the sort. Bridge to the future was to be the “solution” to this crisis when it was classic economic hit job of the wrong policy, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Rousseff calls her impeachment the opening act, or the original sin of Brazil’s catastrophe. Michel Temer admitted at a special Council of the Americas meeting in September 2016, shortly after her ouster, that she had been removed for her refusal to adopt ‘bridge to the future’, an austerity policy manifesto, and not for the minor budgetary infraction for which she was officially impeached.

Bridge to the future, which was suspected to have been drawn up by Council of the Americas and Paulo Guedes’ Instituto Millenium, enforced a twenty year freeze on Brazil’s public education and health investment. These policies continued and intensified under COA darling Guedes, which has exacerbated the country’s Coronavirus pandemic. At the time of publication, 1 in 500 Brazilians have already died of Covid-19. A University of São Paulo report conducted with NGO Conectas found that the Bolsonaro government had encouraged pandemic deaths through intentional spread of the virus and refusal of measures to control it, up to and US encouraged including suppression of vaccines. Guedes ally Solange Viera who had been involved in pension reforms pushed the previous year, remarked in a meeting: “It is good that deaths are concentrated among the elderly … This will improve our economic performance, as it will reduce our pension deficit”. There is now a Senate inquiry into Brazilian government handing of the pandemic which could yet sink the Bolsonaro-Guedes regime.

In 2019, Council of the Americas’ Brian Winter told World Economic Forum attendees to “prepare to be dazzled” by Bolsonaro’s new Minister of the Economy. The economy tanked, dazzlingly, long before the Coronavirus pandemic, with flat to negative GDP, capital flight and devaluation of the Real.

Now, Council of the Americas and the same Wall Street interests which backed Brazil’s coup of 1964, Chile’s in 1973, Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, the jailing of Lula da Silva and the election of Bolsonaro and Guedes, now seek continuation of the ultraliberal project with a ‘Bridge to the future 2.0’, this time seeking to solve the image problem by marrying it to a more acceptable face.

Former president Lula of the Workers Party leads polls for the 2022 election commandingly, as he did before being removed from the race in 2018.

Rebuilding hegemony

Redemocratised Latin America eventually rejected both the IMF-enforced neoliberalism which terrorised the region economically, and its past subservience to U.S. foreign policy.

Since the defeat of the FTAA or free trade area of the Americas, and the ascendence of the so-called pink tide, there have been ongoing efforts to establish a new hegemonic order to succeed the Washington consensus of the 1990s through economic and strategic blocs like the Pacific alliance, the Lima Group, and direct intervention through the U.S. dominated Organisation of American States.

These have stood counter to regional integration efforts like UNASUR, ALBA and CELAC, the protagonists of which were depicted by financial press as the “bad” South America; one of “populism” and “statism”, i.e. obstacles to low wages and privatisation.

From Honduras in 2009 and Paraguay in 2012, there have been a succession of coups, coup attempts, destabilisations and reversed elections; Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua. The failure of Argentinian neoliberal Macri to be re-elected punctured U.S. vision for the southern cone, as did the overthrow of the Bolivian coup regime both they and the IMF backed. The coup government led by CIA-connected Jeanine Añez now face punishment for massacres and torture during their putsch.

In Ecuador, home to the U.S. Manta airbase, and under the shadow of Council of the Americas patron Chevron, a combination of lawfare, proxy spoiler/splinter opposition, and disinformation against the left candidate most recently helped bring COA-lauded banker Guillermo Lasso to power. Lasso, neoliberal former head of Ecuador operations for the Coca-Cola company, succeeds ‘Shakespearean villain’ Lenin Moreno. Moreno was elected on a left-wing ticket to succeed Rafael Correa, only to quickly switch to a U.S. allied position once in office, engage in persecution of former allies, and encourage brutal repression of anti-austerity, anti-IMF protests. This led him too to face a lawsuit from indigenous organisations for crimes against humanity.

Two new Brazilian books ‘Ninguém regula a América‘ by Ana Penido/Miguel Enrique Stédile and  ‘Brasil no espectro de uma guerra híbrida‘ by Piero C. Leirner both detail how beneath a veneer of public diplomacy, lawfare, encouragement and utilisation of the far right, along with other components, have been used by the United States over the past decade or more to wage an undeclared hybrid war across the region, in order to install governments aligned with U.S. interests; put simply it is the old empire with new weapons.

Anti-Corruption in particular went from a standing start in the early 1990s to become a principal tool of US statecraft, capable of swinging elections and toppling presidents. In Brazil’s case this had global dimensions via BRICS and its relations with China and Russia.

These kind of campaigns in Latin America are backed by Council of the Americas, NATO’s Atlantic Council, AEI, Transparency International, the libertarian Atlas Network and other NGOs, think tanks, and foundations, which act as US / FVEY government cutouts, providing strategic planning, material support, and editorial cover via clusters of locally stationed flacks. There has been little distinction between governmental agency and outsourced corporate activity in this area.

It is wrong to assume there was ever pause from the role U.S. corporations played in the horrors of 1960s and 70s Latin America, when the very same organisation that binds them, Council of the Americas, has been a constant, pulling political strings to provide an environment that is friendly to business, and swimming in blood, ever since.

With elections imminent in Brazil, Chile and Colombia, this malign influence should be central to any serious reporting.